Saturday, September 3, 2011

Garlicky in Gormley

"What garlic is to food, insanity is to art"
Augustus Saint Gaudens

There is a lovely saying that goes "tickle the earth with a hoe and she laughs with a harvest".

Most years it holds up; I'm constantly humbled by the bounty we harvest every year.

In other years, you've got to do a whole lot of tickling to even get a grin out of 'ol mother earth. Take garlic for instance:

Garlic is extremely labor intensive. Because it is planted in the fall, it's the first crop out of the blocks in the spring. Those green shoots usually appear just after the frost goes out of the ground.

The first weeds start to appear about 18 seconds later. Garlic has many virtues, but being competitive against weeds is not one of them. Picture a seniors' lawn bowling club against the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl and you have some idea.

In addition to weeding, there is also time spent on pulling scapes (removing the seed heads for a bigger bulb), harvesting, putting on racks to dry, cutting off tops and cleaning. It is by far and away the most costly crop for us to produce on a per plant basis.

Although I've been growing sweet corn since the early 70's; garlic is new to my farming repetoire; we harvested our first crop in 2008.

In 2008 and 2009, there was a huge amount of Chinese garlic dumped into Canadian and American markets, despite restrictive tariffs. A price of 9 large offshore bulbs for $1.00 sticks in my mind, at a time when we charged $1.00 for a single large, freshly harvested bulb.

The outcome, and of course the outrage at our price, was predictable and unpleasant for us. Although we had a relatively small crop in 2008, it took all season to sell it, despite its excellent quality. People constantly reminded us how cheap garlic was in the supermarkets.

In late 2008, the mainstream media released several articles about the dubious safety and quality of Chinese garlic. (Rather than belabor the point here, check out the "Chowhound " website, among others, for more details.)

By the time our 2009 crop came off, the word was starting to get out; fresh local garlic will trump dried up, bleached imported garlic any day. More media attention was paid to the cancer-fighting potential of garlic.

Blame it on beginner's luck; our 2009 crop quality was again excellent. Customers began to remark on the juiciness and pungency of our newly harvested crop rather than kvetching about the price. Some people even bought 4 or 5 bulbs at a time.

We sold out by mid-September and had a few people to call if we decided to sell off any of our planting stock.

By 2010, everyone and their cat knew about Ontario garlic; it was like a gold rush. The combination of media attention to garlic, the "buy local" campaign and the realization that Ontario actually produced delicious garlic, in addition to a shortage of both local and imported garlic, created a perfect storm of a sellers' market.

People that had complained about our price in 2008 were now buying garlic by the dozen, despite the higher prices. 2010 was about as close as we'll ever get to an ideal crop year in this area; the quality was phenomenal.

We sold out by the third week of August and had a long list of people to call if we found any more.

Our 2011 crop is by far and away our best quality yet. Reasons why?

. The fall/winter of 2010-2011 had lots of snow cover to minimize the amount of garlic lost to winterkill, and allow root growth until late in the fall.

.That wet spring that had us all cursing was a blessing for the already-out-of-the-blocks garlic; it sized up magnificently.

.The July harvest saw bone dry conditions: perfect for pungency and storage life.

It amazes me that, in 3 short years,we have gone from a lose-lose to a win-win proposition with this crop. My hat is off to the "Good things grow in Ontario" folks and to our many fine customers who stood by us and made growing garlic such a delight.

"No one is indifferent to garlic. People either love it or hate it, and most good cooks seem to belong in the first group."
Faye Levy


Garlicky Guy